UK government needs to urgently plan for the return of live events

Live Events: Government-backed Insurance
23rd March 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and it is also a pleasure to be part of this cross-party supergroup this morning, which has got together to work across party lines and to argue for proper insurance indemnity for events this year from the Government.

I thank the Minister for her attendance, although, as Steve Brine—who, like me, is on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee—has just said, we would really like to hear from the Treasury, because we would like to know what it has made of all the representations that have been made to it by the industries that we are talking about today. For fronting up for the Government time and again, the Minister deserves some kind of award, but we need to know the answers, and one wonders whether they are currently locked away in a vault somewhere across the road in the Treasury. We want to know what the Treasury really thinks.

As the hon. Member for Winchester did, I will focus today on festivals and live music events, but I will also say a little bit about theatre. I will not go through the whole set of statistics, as the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) and for Winchester have already done. Suffice it to say that one statistic for Cardiff is that across the river from my constituency, in the Principality Stadium, Ed Sheeran played four nights in a row in June 2018 to 60,000 people a night, which is nearly a quarter of a million people over the course of just a few nights. I do not need to spell out to hon. Members and to people watching this debate the economic impact of such events, and their importance to the economy of Cardiff and to the wider economy of south Wales.

In talking about festivals this morning, we want the Government to provide some clarity. If it is the case that it is not going to be possible for them to underwrite events and if it is going to be the case that they do not think that they will stick to their irreversible timetable and will probably have to impose further restrictions in the future, they should say so, because at the moment the sector is being led along on a string effectively and is unable to progress appropriately.

I have heard it said that the Government think that because festivals and live music events are selling tickets they do not need insurance, but of course normally—in a normal year—that ticket revenue would be used to do the build and provide the infrastructure to put on things such as festivals. However, this year is not a normal year, because festivals cannot get any cancellation insurance; they cannot get insurance against not being able to proceed, which would normally be available in the market, as the hon. Member for Winchester said. As a result, that money would have to be returned to ticket purchasers if the event was unable to go ahead and there would be a huge impact on those trying to put on festivals and also further down the supply chain.

That is why the hon. Gentleman—who, as I have said, is on the DCMS Committee, like me—was quite right to draw the attention of that Committee and of the Minister to the possibility of money being taken from people that will never be returned to them, and potentially fraudulent activity taking place around the festival scene this year without the kind of certainty that insurance provides. So we need either insurance to be underwritten for the sector to be able to restart or a clear indication that festivals will not be able to take place and financial support to allow the sector to survive into 2022.

Other countries are doing things about this situation.

Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)
The hon. Gentleman is making a splendid contribution to the debate, which I really appreciate. Does he agree that the longer we delay in getting these events up and running, the more danger there is of people losing momentum and even deskilling, in terms of performance and generating public enthusiasm?

Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have praised the investment in the culture recovery fund, which the Minister will mention in her remarks at the end of the debate—she has to do that; it is an important riff for her as the Minister. There are criticisms, however. In the 1980s, we had the concept of the neutron bomb, which was developed so that it would kill the enemy but not destroy the buildings all around. In a way, the culture recovery fund is a wonderful thing, but if it just saves the buildings and some infrastructure, but does not protect the people in the sector and the skills that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, that will be an additional cost. He is right to make that point.

I was going to mention what is happening in other countries. The Danish Government have announced an event cancellation fund of €67.2 million. The Dutch Government have just announced an insurance fund of €385 million. Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is working on a Government-backed insurance scheme for summer events, to be finalised by the end of the month. The Estonian Government have a scheme. The Germans have a similar fund, of €2.5 billion, to cover promoter risk. I could also mention schemes proposed by the Austrian, Belgian and Norwegian Governments. Such a scheme is not without precedent, because there is a precedent in the creative industries in this country, in the film and television sector. All that many people in the industry are asking for is a similar scheme. It is vital for live music events and festivals that action is taken.

I want to speak briefly about theatre. The theatre sector, and UK Theatre, have been lobbying Government hard for months. Many people involved in theatre production are also involved in film and television production, and they do not understand why the Treasury could provide an insurance indemnity scheme for the film and television industry, but could not provide an identical scheme for the theatre sector, as UK Theatre is asking for. Without a return to normal for theatre production, there will be a huge negative impact on the total economy, including loss of tax revenues and economic activity. That will be felt particularly badly in city centres and some towns.

The insurance market is not offering a scheme of this kind, and it is clear that it will not offer one for the foreseeable future—into 2022 at the very least. The risk exposure figures have been provided to Her Majesty’s Government by, for example, UK Theatre and the new umbrella body for the live sector. The Treasury has not publicly said what is wrong with those figures, and that is what we need to know—if it does not agree with what the sector is saying, it should say so.

We need to hear from the Minister not only about the culture recovery fund, although we understand how important it has been, but about the discussions between her and the Secretary of State and the Treasury. What have the discussions been like, and what is the Treasury saying? If it will not be possible to provide an underwriting insurance scheme, the Government should come clean with the creative industries, so that they can plan accordingly, and Ministers should offer support to help them through to the next stage of this dreadful pandemic.